It feels good when someone says they’re happy to see you, doesn’t it? That’s true in my social life, and it’s true in my book life, too. That’s why I’m so happy to have my upcoming novel, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance on Kirkus’s list of Most Anticipated Books of 2021. It officially pubs on April 6.
Here’s the thing. The days leading up to bringing a new book into the world are always nerve-wracking, no matter how long you’ve been writing. Will your readers like it? Is it on par with your other books? Is a critic out there going to grind it into dust? Those questions have been on my mind even more than usual for Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, mostly because it’s a sequel to Newbery-winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears.
A while back, Travis Jonker did a 20-year survey of Newbery titles for School Library Journal to see how many had sequels or prequels. It turns out, plenty of authors have written sequels to their Newbery winners, but I wonder if any of them worried like I did as they were drafting.
The first problem I ran into was my writing process, which has always been largely intuitive. Typically, I start with a character and a rough idea for a conflict, and then I draft my way into the story until a plot starts to take shape. This time, though, I saw that I would finally need some sort of outline to help keep track of what happened in the earlier book. I needed to be sure, for instance, that I was addressing unresolved events that I had laid out in book 1, to say nothing of being consistent with all the teeny details, such as street names and Iguanador Nation trivia. It was a painful change of work style for me, to be honest, but it had to be done. I guess what we find out as writers is that there is no single “right” way that works for every book. Anyway, I finally embraced Scriveners to help me get organized.
But the bigger issue was the story itself. I wanted to craft something that would resonate again with kids but still feel fresh, one that would introduce new characters, but also show growth and change in the old ones they already knew and loved – Merci, chief among them. Who was coming with me into the second book? Who was going to have to take a back seat? How could I write it, so that even if you never read the first book, you’d still have a satisfying ride in this new one?
The old “pantser” inside me kept listening to Merci’s voice for help. I kept pressing her for answers to my questions: What new discovery have you made about growing up, Merci? What new experience is stretching you in unexpected ways, niña? How is this newer, older you facing things differently?
Ultimately, Merci pointed me to her school life during the seventh grade. As I wrote, her voice was still tart and funny, but I could see that Merci was learning about love and friendship in all its forms as she was getting older. The hidden crushes we have when we’re almost 13. The devastating hurt when we fight with friends. The examples of love that span generations and bloom in our greatest time of need. And most important, self-love and forgiveness.
If you’re heading to ALA midwinter next week (now an online event moving forward), you can hear more about Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by registering for an after-hours preview event of Candlewick Press’s 2021 titles. I’ll be sharing the virtual stage with the fabulous Kekla Magoon. During my part, I’ll read my favorite 2-minute bit and share some behind-the-scenes work on the book. Then you can ask anything you want to know. You’ll even get a virtual “goodie bag,” complete with a dance playlist you can use in your classroom… or alone when no one’s looking. Best of all, you don’t have to be a librarian to attend this talk. Just go to this link to register.
As always, I appreciate all of you who support my work and ask that you post an Amazon review for the first Merci book and/or pre-order a copy of the new title. (Both of these things will help new readers find me.) To get you in the spirit, I’m also doing a two-for-one ARC giveaway of the new book. You’ll get a signed ARC of Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, plus an autographed paperback of Merci Suárez Changes Gears.
To enter, please leave a comment below. Two random winners will be announced next week.
See you at ALA – and happy reading!